Friday, September 18, 2020

Vidura Niti - 7 - Lineage, Conduct, and Relatives

So far we have covered three chapters of Vidura Niti - 254 of 541 shlokas - or a little less than half of Vidura Niti, which is entirely contained in the Prajagara Parva. In the previous post, Vidura talked of the consequences of lying as a witness using the story of Sudhanva, Virochana, and Prahlada.

In this chapter, Vidura reinforces his point by narrating the history of the conversation between the son of Atri and the Sadhyas to Dhritarashtra. The gods, the Sadhyas, wanted to know from Atreya who he was and to hear from him words of wisdom and dharma. Among the things that Atreya told the Sadhyas, one was on harsh words. Atreya's advice was to not retort to harsh words, for that "torments the one who reviles and you enjoy the fruits of his good deeds."

Atreya said that "one is accordingly coloured by one’s associates" - whether one associated with an ascetic or thief. The allusion to the company Dhritarashtra's son kept cannot be missed here. Enough harsh words had been uttered by Duryodhana in the game of dice, and it is here that Atreya's words are worth noting here. 

"First, it is better not to speak than to speak. Second, if one speaks, one should speak the truth. Third, if one speaks, one should say that which is pleasant. Fourth, if one speaks pleasant truth, it should be in accordance with dharma."
अव्याहृतं व्याहृताच्छ्रेय आहुः; सत्यं वदेद्व्याहृतं तद्द्वितीयम्
प्रियं वदेद्व्याहृतं तत्तृतीयं; धर्म्यं वदेद्व्याहृतं तच्चतुर्थम् [5.36.12]


Remember the verses from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (4.4.5) about we being what our "deep, driving desires are"? Vidura Niti echoes the same philosophy, slightly expanding on it - 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Vidura Niti - 6 Bearing false witness and lying for land

Vidura ended the previous chapter by telling the king that Yudhishthira was fit to rule, that he had suffered much on account of his 'compassion and non-violence' and deserved to be king. That was, in essence, his reply to Dhritarashtra's question as to what would be best for Yudhisthira and for the Kurus.

In this chapter – the third in Vidura Niti – Dhritarashtra asks Vidura to share more words of wisdom since he was not satisfied with his advice, full of ‘dharma and artha.’

The questions before Dhritarashtra were whether he was prepared to get into an internecine war over land and whether he would speak the truth or not on the question of whether the Pandavas had successfully completed their thirteen-year period of exile as agreed upon in the second round dice (Anudyuta Parva).

Vidura addressed these unasked questions by recounting the “ancient history of the conversation between Virochana and Sudhanva, over Keshini”. Vidura had alluded to this in the first chapter, but not elaborated. Here, he recounts the story in detail.

Virochana was Prahlada’s son. Prahlada, as we know, was the son of the asura king Hiranyakashyipu. There was a svayamvara held for Keshini, where both Virochana and Sudhanva, a brahmana, arrived. Keshini posed a question to Virochana – who was superior, Sudhanva the brahmana, or Virochana?

Virochana offered Sudhanva a seat along with him, under the assumption that Sudhanva was at best his equal, nothing more. Sudhanva, however, refused as accepting would mean he would descend to the level of Virochana, which was unacceptable.

Both disagreed as to who deserved a higher seat, and both put up stakes on the answer. Who would decide, and decide honestly? First, Sudhanva put up their lives as stakes, and second, as to who would decide without telling a lie, both agreed to Sudhanva’s suggestion to go Prahlada, Virochana’s father.

Before Prahlada answered their question, he posed a question of his own to Sudhanva – ‘Where does the false witness, who neither speaks the truth nor lies, spend the night?’ Sudhanva answered the question in two parts. First, he replied to Prahlada’s direct question:
“A false witness spends the night like a woman ignored” (Bibek Debroy’s footnote tells us this refers to the situation where the husband is with another woman)
“like one who has been defeated in gambling”
“or like one whose limbs are exhausted from carrying a load.”
“A false witness spends the night like someone who is debarred from the city and remains hungry outside the gates, where he always sees many enemies.”

यां रात्रिमधिविन्ना स्त्री यां चैवाक्षपराजितः
यां च भाराभितप्ताङ्गो दुर्विवक्ता स्म तां वसेत् [5.35.24]

नगरे प्रतिरुद्धः सन्बहिर्द्वारे बुभुक्षितः
अमित्रान्भूयसः पश्यन्दुर्विवक्ता स्म तां वसेत् [5.35.25]

Second, he elaborated by describing what a lie was like, depending on who the lie was spoken for:
A lie for the sake of an animal implies that five are killed.”
“A lie for the sake of a cow implies that ten are killed.”
“A lie for the sake of a horse implies that one hundred are killed.”
“A lie for the sake of a man implies that one thousand are killed.”
“A lie for the sake of gold implies that those who have been born, and those who are yet to be born, are killed.”
“A lie for the sake of land implies that everything is killed.”

पञ्च पश्वनृते हन्ति दश हन्ति गवानृते
शतमश्वानृते हन्ति सहस्रं पुरुषानृते [5.35.26]

हन्ति जातानजातांश्च हिरण्यार्थेऽनृतं वदन्
सर्वं भूम्यनृते हन्ति मा स्म भूम्यनृतं वदीः [5.35.27]

An interesting point is that the value of a cow, in this answer, is deemed lower than a horse’s. The second point should be obvious to all – the whole dispute between the Pandavas and Kouravas centered around the land – whether Yudhishthira was to be given his kingdom back, now that the exile of thirteen years had ended.

If the period had ended without the Pandavas being discovered in the thirteenth year, then there was no option for the king but to return their kingdom to them, as per the conditions of the bet laid down in the second round of gambling (Anudyuta Parva).

The only way this would not happen was if the king uttered a lie, which is what Vidura warned against – “Therefore, you should not utter a falsehood for the sake of the land. By deviating for the sake of your son, do not head towards destruction with your sons and your advisers.”

On the question of lying, or bearing false witness, Vidura enumerated the seven kinds of people who should not be called as witnesses:
  1. A palmist
  2. A trader who has been a thief earlier
  3. A skilled fowler
  4. A physician
  5. An enemy
  6. Friend
  7. Actor
I can only wonder about some on this list, but moving on, Vidura tells Dhritarashtra that "Old age destroys beauty, hope destroys steadfastness, death destroys life, jealousy destroys dharma, anger destroys prosperity, association with the ignoble destroys conduct, lust destroys modesty and vanity destroys everything."

Friday, September 4, 2020

Vidura Niti - 5

The first chapter of Vidura Niti ended with Vidura advising Dhritarashtra to do the right thing and hand over the Pandava's "rightful kingdom" to them. The king, as we know, did not take that advice. He was, however, tormented by Sanjay's harsh words before he had departed for the night. Sleep would not come. Dhritarashtra wanted to know what should a person suffering from sleeplessness do, and also what the suggested course of action that would be best for both Ajatshatru (Yudhishthira) as well as the Kurus (i.e., the Kauravs in this context, since both the Pandavas and Kauravas were Kurus). In this chapter, Vidura talks about deeds, consequences, of the five senses, and ends with an oblique answer to the king.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Long lives - Tales from the Mahabharata


Some of the characters in the Mahabharata lived long lives. Even Arjuna was about to become a grandfather when the great battle was fought in Kurukshetra. Bhishma his grandfather's age. Remember that Devavrata had been a young lad when he took the terrible vow that allowed his father to marry Satyavati. Satyavati's grandsons were Dhritarashtra, Pandu, and Vidura. So Bhishma was even older than Arjuna's grandfather would have been!

Dronacharya loved his son, Aswhatthama, too much. That love drove many decisions Drona took in life. Ashwatthama, on the other hand, loved his own life too much. That much we know because Bhishma says as much on the eve of the war. "He loves his own life too much. This brahmana always wishes for a long life. [Ch 164, Udyoga Parva]", and after the war, Ashwatthama confesses, "I was scared of saving my life. I released the weapon out of fear. I was scared of Bhimasena.[Ch 15, Aishika Parva]" 

Friday, August 21, 2020

Vidura Niti - 4 The Nine Gates and Ten Who Do Not Know About Dharma

I ended the third piece on Vidura Niti with listing the six who live off six others. Let's move to the seven. Yes, I am talking about seven vices that a king must avoid. What are they?
  • women
  • dicing
  • hunting
  • drinking
  • harsh words 
  • great severity of punishment 
  • abuse of wealth.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Vidur Niti - 3 The Two Thorns and Six Vices

Number play - that's where I ended the second article on Vidura Niti. Vidura spoke to Dhritarashtra about using the one - intelligence - to differentiate between the two - right and wrong - to bring the three under control - friend, foe, and neutral - and so on. Let's pick that up, with some repetition, for the sake of continuity.

I had asked what was Vidura referring to when he talked about the two and three in all these statements?
  1. What are the two thorns that dry up the body? 
  2. Who are the two that the earth destroys? 
  3. Through which two deeds can a man be radiant in this world?
  4. What are the three courses of action for men?
  5. What are the three kinds of men?
  6. Who are the three who cannot own property?
  7. and so on... 
The two thorns are "desire on the part of those who are poor, and anger on the part of those who are powerless."

Who does the earth destroy? "A king who is not aggressive, and a brahmana who has not dwelt away from home." The brahmana is supposed to go on pilgrimages, that is why. Why such a king would be destroyed need not be elaborated. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Vidur Niti - 2: The Stupid

Having begun by talking about the traits of learned people, Vidura then talked 'stupid'. If the learned can be described and identified by certain qualities, then the stupid should be the ones who lack those attributes. Yes, but Vidura made it a point to list the characteristics of the stupid.

Vidura doesn't say that not being learned is a sign of being stupid. Not being learned yet vain, being poor yet proud - are two signs of the stupid. It may sound cruel, but it's also a harsh acknowledgment of reality. "Striving for artha but without performing deeds" is a third sign of stupidity. Lest one is tempted to argue with that third, note that even the corrupt and crooked have to make some efforts to acquire wealth. They may not do so through honest means, but that is a moral question.

What else marks the stupid?

Monday, July 27, 2020

Vidura Niti - 1 Sleeplessness and a Message

When does sleeplessness takes over? When a "weak one is attacked by a stronger enemy, if one’s faculties are weak, if one has lost everything to a lecher or a thief, one is overcome by sleeplessness."

Such is the start of the counsel given by Vidura to the blind king Dhritarashtra.
Why had sleeplessness overtaken him?
Because Sanjay had taken the king's permission to go sleep!
Because Sanjay had returned from an unsuccessful journey to Upalavya where he had been sent by the king with instructions to not say anything that would incite the Pandavas to war. 
Because, while Sanjay had told Dhritarashtra what he thought, he had still not delivered Ajatshatru's message for the king, which he would do only in the morning.
The morning that was yet to come filled Dhritarashtra with dread.

And thus sleeplessness.